At Columbia, First ROTC Event Since ’72

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The New York Sun

On Friday, Columbia University will host a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps commissioning ceremony, the first such ceremony since 1972, when student military organization were evicted from campus. A dozen cadets from nine area universities will be commissioned as active duty second lieutenants in the United States Air Force.

“This demonstrates the commitment by Columbia to the military,” the driving force behind the ceremony, cadet Robert Wray, said. Mr. Wray graduated from Columbia yesterday and will be commissioned on Friday in the Low Library Rotunda. “Columbia doesn’t hate the military. They respect those involved in it.”

That respect has been a long time coming. In 1969, with anti-Vietnam War sentiment at its peak, Columbia barred ROTC from the campus. The ban has not been lifted; a year ago, the university senate voted 53-10 to maintain it. Columbia students who want to join the training corps must do so at the local detachments – for the Army at Fordham University in the Bronx, and for the Air Force at Manhattan College in Riverdale.

Another Columbia ROTC cadet who played an active role in getting the commissioning ceremony on campus, Sean Wilkes, said the university has reached out to the ROTC students by “making the program work with their schedule, to improve the lives of cadets.” Mr. Wilkes, the chairman of the campus group, Advocates for Columbia ROTC, will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army at Fordham on Friday.

Other students were more skeptical. “I’m surprised it’s happening actually,” a Marine Corps reservist, Matt Sanchez, said. “Most people in the university, including the administration, are very biased against the military.”

Conservative students not in the ROTC charged the university with hypocrisy. “It’s ridiculous that people who promote tolerance and diversity are the same people who try to keep out the alternate lifestyle – that is, ROTC – from our school,” an active member of the College Republicans, Peter Law, said.

Still others oppose the ceremony outright.

“It’s pretty disingenuous to not allow the ROTC on campus but then allow the officer induction ceremony,” a graduating senior who sported a “McCain does not speak for me” protest button during graduation exercises yesterday, Jacob McKean, said. Senator McCain was the commencement speaker.

The commissioning ceremony is sponsored by the students, not the university.

“Columbia supports our students who choose to pursue careers in the military through ROTC programs at neighboring universities and through other avenues,” a spokeswoman, Susan Brown, said in a statement. “We also work in partnership with the United States government and its institutions, including the military.”

Referring to the vote against the ROTC last year, Ms. Brown said, “The vote of the university senate does not change those essential facts.”

Despite the thaw, other university officials maintain their opposition to ROTC on campus. “I opposed the proposal to invite ROTC to return to Columbia because the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of the Pentagon is in direct contradiction of the University’s own non-discrimination policies,” the provost, Alan Brinkley, said in an e-mail to The New York Sun. “At the same time, I have great respect for the men and women who serve in our armed forces, including the Columbia students who have chosen to enroll in ROTC programs on neighboring campuses.” Mr. Brinkley will attend the commissioning ceremony.

The chairman of the alumni organization, Columbia Alliance for ROTC, Theodore Graske, welcomed the ceremony. “This event and others like it are long overdue,” he said. “We hope that this is the first of many steps by Columbia to better support students who wish to participate in the ROTC program.”

The New York Sun

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